Ottawa tables much anticipated bail reform legislation for repeat, violent offenders

If Bill C-48 passes, Ottawa will officially amend the Criminal Code to expand the reverse-onus provisions.

Ottawa tables much anticipated bail reform legislation for repeat, violent offenders
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld (Image Left) and THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang (Image Right)
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Tragedy struck in Edmonton several weeks ago after a mother and her 11-year-old daughter were fatally stabbed by a repeat violent offender out on bail, prompting a heightened sense of urgency to table bail reform. 

"The Edmonton Police Department and police departments nationwide are demanding serious bail reform. Will this Liberal government finally listen and reverse all their reckless catch and release bail policies?" asked Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho at the House of Commons Monday.

"Canadians deserve to feel safe, and we're taking measures in concert with the provinces and territories to do just that," replied Justice Minister David Lametti. On Tuesday, Ottawa tabled Bill C-48 to respond "directly" to the concerns of premiers and police associations nationwide on the threat posed by repeat violent offenders to society.

The legislation introduces reverse-onus bail conditions for people charged with serious violent offences involving a weapon and who previously received a conviction on similar violent crimes over the past five years. It also expands that provision in cases of alleged intimate partner violence.

Though prosecutors must still prove why offenders should stay behind bars, in some cases, repeat offenders must prove why they should receive bail. 

"You are innocent until proven guilty, and this is a critically important part of our legal system," Lametti told reporters. "But what we're doing for certain violent offences is changing the default position and ensuring that it is only in cases where there isn't a threat to security."

The federal justice minister expects the bill to pass with unanimous consent. Still, Conservatives remain skeptical of Ottawa as they blame Bill C-75 from 2019, a bail reform bill they say caused the recent uptick in violent crime.

"After eight years of Justin Trudeau's catch and release policies, we have more drugs and disorder, crime and chaos," said Official Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre Wednesday. "Police officers nearly unanimously support the call [to reverse all catch and release policies."

"In the last six months, we have lost nine officers — eight of them to random violence," writes Police Chief Danny Smyth. "The number of murders of police officers has resulted in stark comparisons with countries like the United States, to which we have never before found reason to compare."

"There is no question that the degradation of discourse around policing and police funding, the lack of accountability in our justice system, and the significant increase in drug, gang, and gun violence have all escalated the danger for our profession," he said.

If Bill C-48 passes, Ottawa will officially amend the Criminal Code to expand the reverse-onus provisions. "This bill responds directly to concerns raised by the premiers and police chiefs and victims' advocates," added Lametti.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino commended the legislation for adding firearms offences to the reverse-onus bail conditions. He said it "zeroes in on offenders who use guns and other weapons."

However, Official Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre pledged to take Bill C-48 further if elected prime minister by waiving rights to a bail hearing for repeat violent offenders, emphasizing "jail, not bail." He also criticized Ottawa for not raising the bar for such offenders to access bail.

"A common sense Conservative government will reverse Trudeau's catch and release," said the Tory leader at Tuesday's press conference. Lametti said the direction Poilievre intends to take regarding bail reform "eviscerates Charter rights."

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh noted that better supervision of people released on bail would keep communities safer, adding, "There are serious concerns around mental health and addictions also creating serious problems around safety."

Calls for change intensified following the death of an Ontario Provincial Police Officer last year. On December 27, 28-year-old OPP Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala died while responding to a call for a ditched vehicle in Hagersville, Ontario — his first-day working solo.

According to court documents, the accused, Randal McKenzie, did not receive bail in a separate case involving assault and weapons charges. However, the judge released him days later. 

The documents add McKenzie had a warrant for his arrest after he failed to attend a court date in August for that separate charge. He now faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of Pierzchala.

In September 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford criticized the justice system for failing to "get its act together" after a man accused of killing a Toronto police officer received bail.

In what investigators called a deliberate act, a 55-year-old officer died on July 2 after being struck by a vehicle while responding to a reported robbery at Toronto City Hall. The accused, Umar Zameer, faced one count of first-degree murder but went out on bail.

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